ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Loggerhead sea turtles have laid at least 338 nests this year on Anna Maria Island, the most in 15 years and more than double the average 155 nests per year.
"It makes our jaws drop," said Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.
The number of nests laid after Tropical Storm Debby struck the region has also surpassed the total number of nests laid in 2011, said Pete Gross, who compiles data for the turtle watch organization.
There were a total of 145 nests laid last year. Ever since Debby hit Manatee County in June, 159 nests have been discovered, Gross said.
"It's been a remarkable year," Gross said. "We've never seen anything like it. Something changed and we are not sure what it is, if it's an anomaly or a trend that will continue in future years."
Fox and Gross said they do not believe the storm influenced the increase in nests.
The sea turtle nesting season begins May 1 and ends Oct. 31, Gross said. The female sea turtles lay about 110 eggs per nest, but only one in 1,000 hatchlings survive, he said.
"The odds are not in their favor," Gross said, adding that the newly hatched turtles weigh about 3/4 of an ounce and are about an inch long.
The small creatures are easy targets for predators, Gross said.
A total of 329 false crawls have also been recorded, Fox said. False crawls happen when turtles walk on the beach and retreat back to the water without laying their eggs.
"People that walk the beach every day were appalled by that 667 number," Fox said, of the combined false crawls and nests count. "That's how many times sea turtles who do not walk on land entered the shore on Anna Maria Island. That is astounding."
Fox said people are now more educated and watchful about sea turtles, something that has contributed to the nesting success.
"I truly feel that it is the public that has stepped up to the base and they want to take back the reigns and improve the environment," Fox said.
There's still time for sea turtles to lay more eggs, Fox said.